Pentecost 2, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 5:11-17

“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.  And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”  2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NRSV)

Death is a great motivator.  People who receive a diagnosis of terminal illness often become highly focused on what is really important to them, and make dramatic changes to their lives that reflect their new values.  Well-meaning Christians wanting to win more souls for Christ often use the threat of death and eternal damnation to encourage people to make the right choices now.

But death has no real power, especially over Christians.  Christ has already died—not only for existing Christians, but for all—and has conquered death by his resurrection.  Our sinful selves have died with him, and we have been reborn to new lives in him.  What does that mean?  It means we don’t have to be afraid of dying.  Death is neither a punishment for our behavior nor the end of our existence; it is simply a change in how we live.

Given that, we are called to live on this earth as though we’ve already died, and therefore have nothing to fear.  We can enjoy life, experience its beauty, participate in its love.  We don’t have to seek approval, human or divine, because human approval doesn’t matter, and divine approval has already been given us, for the sake of Christ.  We have what we have because Christ loves us, and we are called to act not by a fear of death, but by the love of Christ.

Let us pray.  Loving God, you took our death upon yourself and gave us eternal life instead.  Free us from fear, that we may share your love throughout the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Holy Trinity, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 1:46b-55

“[The Lord] has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendents forever.”  Luke 1:54-55 (NRSV)

Nearly two thousand years after Jesus promised his disciples he’d return, it’s difficult to keep waiting in hopeful expectation for his arrival.  It’s easy to doubt that he meant it, or that he’s capable of it, or even that God cares enough about us to make it happen.  After all, it’s been so long, and so much as changed.

But God has not changed, and God keeps his promises.  We are not the first to wait two thousand years for the fulfillment of a divine promise.  We are not the first to see our lives and culture change so much that we would be unrecognizable to our earliest ancestors.  The Israelites had experienced exactly the same thing.  Two thousand years after God promised Abraham the land as a perpetual holding and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him and his descendents, the Israelites were a conquered people, their land occupied by the Romans.  They had once been a great nation, but they had fallen, and wandered away from their faith in God many times.  Other nations had met Israel in war or in trade, but none had ever been blessed through Israel.

Until Mary was asked to bear Jesus.

Two thousand years after the promise to Abraham, it was fulfilled in a child born to a peasant in a stable.  That child opened the way for salvation for all people, all nations.  And that child, God’s own Son, has promised to return.

God takes a much longer view of the world and events than humans can comprehend.  We exist on earth for such a short period, we tend to overemphasize the importance of the events of our lifetimes.  But just because God doesn’t act according to our timeframe or expectations doesn’t mean he has forgotten his promises.  The Israelites waited two thousand years for the birth of their Messiah; that Messiah has been working in the world through his people for the past two thousand years.  Only God knows when his work will be complete, and it is time for him to return.

Let us pray.  God of faithfulness, your Word endures throughout the generations.  Enable us to patiently wait and work with Christ, that we may remain expectant and hopeful for his eventual return.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Holy Trinity, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Proverbs 8:4-21

“I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength.  By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly.”  Proverbs 8:14-16 (NRSV)

It is daunting to be in a position of leadership.  Whether you are head of state for a nation, owner of a business, supervisor of a department, or simply a parent or mentor of a child, you are responsible for leading and guiding those who look up to you.  Responsibility is a heavy weight, and it is not to be treated casually.

The truth is, none of us is gifted enough in wisdom and strength to responsibly lead ourselves, let alone others.  When we rely on ourselves and make choices based on what is right in our own eyes, we will invariably make selfish and corrupt choices, showing injustice to those who depend upon our leadership.

But when we seek the wisdom of the Lord, we are seeking true justice.  We will be given insight beyond our own experiences that shows us how to govern rightly.  We will be guided to show strength tempered with mercy, resolve tempered with compassion.  The wisdom of the Lord will guide us in the ways of righteousness, and steer us away from pride, arrogance, and corruption.

All of us are leaders in some area of our lives.  Any time you have influence over another person, whether ‘officially’ or not, you are a leader.  Don’t be daunted by the weight of that responsibility; recognize it as an opportunity to demonstrate the love of God, and trust him to show you how.

Let us pray.  God of wisdom, you are the source of truth, righteousness, and justice.  Guide our choices, that all who look to us for leadership will benefit from your sovereignty.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Holy Trinity, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Ephesians 4:7-16

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”  Ephesians 4:14-15 (NRSV)

Children are gullible.  They are easily led to believe anything that the adults around them want them to believe, good or bad, right or wrong.  As they get older they begin to question, to test their beliefs against their own reason and experiences.  Some of their childhood beliefs will be proven out as true, and retained as part of a new adult worldview.  Some will be abandoned, rejected as childish fantasies or outright falsehoods.  Fantasies and lies will falter and fade, and the truth alone shall prevail.

Christians are often encouraged to be as ‘little children’ in regards to Christ, or have a ‘childlike’ faith.  This means that we are to recognize our total dependence on Christ our Savior.  It does not mean that we should unquestioningly accept everything we are told about God, Jesus, faith, salvation, or Christianity.  We are called to test everything we are taught with our reason and experience, using the intellect and curiosity that God gave us.

What does this look like in practice?  If one text in the bible is held up as inviolately authoritative, we must consider whether that text contradicts other texts in the bible, and, if so, question why that one text is given more weight than the others.  Are any of them contextually specific?  Which ones?  Do they apply to our context today?  How and why, or why not?  And in regards to action in the world we must ask ourselves, does this appropriately represent the God of love and grace we meet in the bible?

There is plenty of room for debate among the faithful, but given that we all name ourselves Christians, we are called to reflect his grace and gentleness.  We are called to debate the truth in love, letting go of platitudes and sweeping generalizations, and seeing how the truths to which we cling hold up to the reality of life.  Fantasies and lies will falter and fade, and the truth alone shall prevail.

Let us pray.  God of truth, you have provided us with your Word.  Grant us wisdom and maturity, that we might be comforted by your Word and proclaim its good news.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Holy Trinity, Year C

Inspired by Romans 5:1-5

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)

Who in their right mind would boast in their suffering?  Is suffering something to be desired?  Something to be proud of?  Does God make us suffer so that we will have hope in him?

Despite some well-meaning claims to the contrary, the answer is no.  God does not make us suffer, and God does not want us to suffer.  But God understands that suffering is a natural part of life, and it’s going to happen to all of us.  It even happened to him, when he took on human flesh, became the incarnate Christ, and suffered death on the cross.

But because we have a God who knows and understands suffering in the deepest core of his being, we can be assured that whatever suffering we may experience in our lives, God will never abandon us and make us face it alone.  In the messiest, dirtiest, most unholy parts of life, God will be there with us, strengthening us with his love and compassion, encouraging us to cling to him, because he will get us through it.

Paul is not celebrating endurance and character as positive outcomes of suffering; he is listing them as stops on the journey to hope, and it is that hope which is celebrated.  Endurance will not save us.  Character will not save us.  The God who has already poured his love into our hearts will save us, and it is in him that we hope.

Suffering is a part of life, but even in the worst of our suffering, our God stands with us.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you desire peace in our lives.  Help us to seek you in difficult times, that we may be strengthened by your hope, your love, and your presence.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Holy Trinity, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 8

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.”  Psalm 8:3-6 (NRSV)

It’s easy to feel insignificant in the midst of the natural world.  The vastness of space reduces us to tiny specks on a tiny planet, one among millions.  The seas can swallow our vessels at will; the mountains often conquer our efforts to traverse them.  We are no match for the strength or speed of many animals, and a storm can flatten our cities and towns in moments.  The Lord God created all of it, and we may wonder why he bothered with us.

Yet he did bother with us, and despite our smallness and comparative weaknesses, we have something that no other aspect of creation has: we were created in God’s own image.

God entrusted his land and his seas and his creatures and his universe into our care, and he sent his Son to live as one of us, to be one of us, to further strengthen the bond between humanity and the Creator of all things.  This God did out of his own gracious will, according to his own choice and desires, and not based on our own inherent importance in the world or ability to subdue the elements.  Our importance is based on God’s love, and our (albeit limited) ability to subdue the elements is due to the authority he has given us.

In God’s eyes, no individual is insignificant.  No individual is unimportant or expendable.  God looked at you in all your smallness and all your weakness and all your limitations, and crowned you with glory and honor.  God has lifted you up with his grace, and has given you a place in his creation, and an inheritance with his Son.

Let us pray.  Sovereign God, all things are yours, and you have entrusted what is yours into our care.  Grant us wisdom and humility, that we may be capable stewards of your creation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Holy Trinity, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Ephesians 4:1-6

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)

Many people identify themselves as Christians.  But what does it mean to actually be a Christian?

Paul referred to himself as ‘the prisoner in the Lord.’  Normally we think of ‘prisoner’ as being a negative thing, deprived of one’s freedoms, and a condition to be changed as soon as possible.  But Paul was not complaining about his status; he was describing what it is to be a Christian.  Being a Christian means giving up your own autonomy and authority, and submitting yourself to the Lord instead.

This is not actually as radical as it sounds at first.  For the Lord is not only our Redeemer and our Sustainer, he is also our Creator.  He knows each of us better than we know ourselves.  He knows our strengths and our weaknesses.  He knows what gifts we have, because he’s the one who gave them to us.  And when we become Christians, prisoners in the Lord, then we are accepting his calling to be the people that God created us to be and use the gifts he gave us to do his work in the world, rather than using them to further our own personal ambitions.

All Christians, regardless of how different from each other, are united by one Spirit, and called to work together as one body.  As Christians, we are called to prioritize the importance of that unity above and beyond our own personal gifts and goals.

Perhaps it is pretty radical, after all.

Let us pray.  God of unity, you have brought many diverse people together to be your body in the world.  Help us to build one another up through humility, gentleness, and patience, that we may proclaim your love to all people.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Holy Trinity, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by Ephesians 1:17-19

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”  Ephesians 1:17-19 (NRSV)

What we believe about the world affects how we see the world.  People who look around and see the positive side of things will see the glass half full, while those who tend to dwell on the negative will see that same glass half empty.

Given the current state of the world, it’s easy to look around and see what’s wrong.  Millions of people suffer needlessly each day from poverty, injustice, abuse, illness, and violence.  And when we try to imagine what we personally can do to change it, it seems as though the situation is hopeless.

However, when we have received a spirit of wisdom and revelation from God the Father, we are able to look at the world through the eyes of hope.  Rather than looking at the misery of the world, we begin to see that there are already those working to alleviate that misery.  We see how we can help.  And instead of seeing victims and perpetrators, we see people, all of whom are trying to make their way in this sinful and fallen world, just like us.  We begin to see that while we can’t change systems, we can work to change individual hearts, and every system is dependent upon individuals with hearts.  Change for the better is possible after all, when we have come to know the immeasurable greatness of the Father of glory.

Let us pray.  God of hope, you are still working in the world to bring hope and healing to those who suffer.  Enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may participate in your compassionate efforts to change hearts and lives for the better.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 1:26-38

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to you word.’  Then the angel departed from her.”  Luke 1:38 (NRSV)

What courageous words!  The angel of the Lord just got through telling Mary that nothing—nothing!—is impossible with God.  As proof he told her about her cousin Elizabeth who, though well past the age of childbearing, was pregnant.  And Mary, knowing that submitting herself to the word of the Lord would result in her own pregnancy, despite the fact that she was a virgin, despite the fact that this could result in her being ostracized and becoming a social outcast, despite the fact that it might drive away the man to whom she was betrothed, and despite the fact that it would forever change her life and probably make things more difficult for her, accepted the task God had set before her.

Mary’s particular task was unique, but what God calls us to do is no less radical, or risky.  We all live in societies that have certain values and behavioral expectations, and God calls us to sometimes live in opposition to them.  Rather than pursuing wealth and status, we’re called upon to identify with the poor and downtrodden, using whatever means we have to improve the lives of all God’s people.  Rather than judging others as unworthy or undesirable, we’re called upon to associate with the lowest of the low, and show love to the unlovable.

By submitting ourselves to the will of the Lord, by putting his word as our first priority, we also risk being ostracized and made social outcasts.  We also risk losing people we love who just can’t understand our priorities or actions.  We also risk making our lives more difficult.  But we also invite the impossible, the extraordinary, the miraculous into our lives.

Mary undoubtedly experienced some difficulties with her fiancé and her community, but ultimately they did not cast her out.  God spoke to her betrothed, encouraging him to stand by her, and he did.  They raised God’s Son together, with the support of the community, even though the community did not know what they were participating in.  Because with God, nothing is impossible.

Let us pray.  God of the unexpected, with you all things are possible.  Grant us the courage to submit to your will, that we may participate in your miraculous work in the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Ezekiel 11:14-25

“I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them.  Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”  Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NRSV)

Have you ever done something that benefited yourself and hurt another person in the process?  Have you ever been cruel or heartless, acting out of your own pain and not caring who else might be injured by your words or actions?  Have you ever thought about what you’ve done and felt shame, wondering how God could ever love a person as undeserving as you?

All of us have done things to hurt other people, either intentionally or thoughtlessly.  And most of us have felt some shame over our actions, and felt unworthy of all the love and sacrifice God has given for us.  Perhaps we tried to put some distance between us and God, believing that we had to somehow ‘improve’ ourselves before we could present ourselves to him and ask for his love.

Such distance is not necessary.  God knows our struggles, knows what we are capable of, and knows our limitations.  We don’t have to become perfect in order to deserve his love; we are incapable of such perfection.  He loves us because he chooses to, and that’s before we do anything, good or bad, loving or cruel.

Seek him out in prayer; look for his acts of love in the world.  You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love; he already loves you.  Let him replace your heart of stone with a heart of flesh.  He will enable you to discern and obey his will.  He is your God, and you are his beloved child.

Let us pray.  Merciful Lord, you are grieved by the sins we commit against each other and against you.  Give us new hearts, that we may recognize each other as your beloved children, and act with the love and grace that you have shown to us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.